Admin staff could be cut to pay for REF stars at City University

Unions fear job losses will fund institution’s lofty research ambitions

April 11, 2013

More than 100 non-academic staff could lose their jobs at City University London to make savings to cover the recruitment of researchers for next year’s research excellence framework, unions have claimed.

In a statement to City’s academic council, three trade unions have raised concerns about a professional services review, which they believe will lead to the loss of administrative staff to save an estimated £12 million.

They also claim that “existing loyal academic staff are to be forced out by…the setting of unrealistic performance targets and the inappropriate use of capability procedures” to make room for research-focused academics.

Under the leadership of vice-chancellor Paul Curran, City is believed to have recruited more than 100 academic staff in preparation for the 2014 REF, often using headhunting firms.

This figure is expected to increase even further by the end of October, when staff must be in place for inclusion in the exercise that will be used to allocate an annual £1.6 billion in research funding to universities.

However, the desire to attract four-star research staff is at the expense of others involved in teaching and student support, according to Keith Simpson, president of City’s University and College Union branch.

“Admin jobs are going to pay for the recruitment of academic staff in the REF,” said Mr Simpson.

“They may eventually win research grants for City, but the interim position is that they are not bringing in any money,” he added.

City claims that the review will lead to an improved service for staff and students as well as lower costs, with a pan-university model replacing professional service groups in each department.

However, Mr Simpson questioned the overall direction of travel for City laid out in the university’s strategic plan, approved by its academic council in March 2012, which spells out City’s ambition to join the top 2 per cent of universities in the world by boosting research excellence.

“We have always been a university with a large number of master’s and postgraduate taught students that have good employability prospects - City was the university that got you a job,” he said.

“There is a worry that we are losing our niche by trying to become a research-intensive, Russell Group-style university that we might never become.”

The recruitment of research-focused staff - part of a desire to climb university league tables - also posed problems for existing academics who were unable to undertake research themselves because of higher teaching loads, Mr Simpson added.

Meanwhile, hiring staff with PhDs to boost a department’s research standing did not always serve the interests of students, he continued.

“I train barristers, but you don’t really get many barristers with PhDs. There are a few, but you wouldn’t necessarily want them to do your training,” he said.

The unions have asked the university to promise no compulsory redundancies as it undertakes restructuring, as well as greater consultation with staff about the university’s future.

A spokeswoman for City said that details of the professional service redesign would be released this month.

“We anticipate that there will be reductions in both posts and non-pay spend, but the university is not yet in a position to give an indication of numbers,” she added.

“Our aim is to seek to avoid compulsory redundancies where possible, and we will work with the trade unions to try to achieve this.”

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